#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20


Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.

This review forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.” // Review of “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Stuart Turton
Genre: Literary/speculative fiction
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/05/20 – 08/05/20


What even was this book?

No, that’s not rhetorical. Please, someone tell me.

Okay, maybe I’m being a bit disingenuous there, but I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say this book is unlike any other I’ve read. It was compelling, even as I sometimes struggled to keep track of things. I had a small list of murder suspects, and I was ALMOST right!

You do sort of have to roll with this book. It would be easy to try to sit there picking apart all the time travel logic and how it  all works. I suspect Stuart Turton must have had a dozen spreadsheets in order to keep it all straight, and I think there are still times when things don’t quite add up. But as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, then you will keep turning the pages, perhaps even start dreaming about the book as I did!

I have to say that up until about the last 30 or so pages, this was a five star read for me, despite the nit-picking. But as I was nearing the end, I realised that I wasn’t going to find out certain details about how the events of the book all came to pass in the first place… there are hints dropped, but nothing really concrete. We learn that certain character development (as in, a person changed due to their experiences) took place before the book starts, meaning we just have to accept them, rather than seeing it happen.

This didn’t kill the enjoyment for me, but it meant I closed the book at the end feeling dissatisfied. Maybe that’s just me, though? Don’t let me put you off!

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Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Genre: YA/fantasy
Date Read:
25/02/2016 – 08/03/2016
Rating: ★★★★

seraphinacoverIt had been a really long time since I read a dragons-based fantasy, and having heard a lot of good things about Seraphina, I decided this was the one to go for. So glad, as it’s a gorgeous book.

Seraphina is a talented musician, having just moved to the Court of Gorredd as an apprentice to the music master there. When a human prince is found dead with head removed, suspicion falls on the dragons. For forty years, an uneasy truce between humans and dragons has been in place, but as the anniversary draws near, tensions are running high. Seraphina tries to assist in the investigation, but all the time, she has to hide her own dragon ancestry, which hinders her and others involved along the way.

First of all, let me talk about the world-building in this book. It’s not over the top (I hate reading pages upon pages of description), but it is rich in details. I could see it all in my mind’s eye. Hartman has also developed a detailed history of Gorred and the surrounding kingdoms, as well as the conflicts with dragons and how the truce came into place. Honestly, I wanted to live there.

And the characters are also great. None of the main players felt two-dimensional, even the ones we only see briefly. I’m not usually a fan of first person narrators, but Seraphina is written very realistically; I felt her doubts and fears along with her. My favourite character was her dragon uncle, Orma, who was in that same vein as characters like Spock or Sherlock, who claim to have no emotions but have spent too much time around other humans and find we’re rubbing off on him. Princess Glisselda, third in line to the throne and one of Seraphina’s students, was a nice bright and bubbly contrast to some of the other characters, and her cousin, Prince Lucian Kiggs, was  a great Captain of the Guard (I have a certain weak spot for Captains of the Guard). I appreciated that he had his own goals outside of being Seraphina’s love interest.

All in all, this was a fantastic YA fantasy that I recommend to all fans of the genre. Unfortunately, general consensus seems to be that the second book is very unsatisfying as a follow-up, so while I would definitely like to read more of this world, for now, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

Book Review: Unmasking: Lemon’s Thesis

Title: Unmasking: Lemon’s Thesis
Author: Gloria Weber
Genre: Urban fantasy (superheroes)
Date Read:
Rating: ★★★★

unmasked1coverIt’s been a good while since I read anything with superheroes in it, and the last one wasn’t that great. Thankfully, Gloria Weber has set up both an interesting setting and well-developed characters, which meant my Friday evening spent reading this was time well spent.

Lemon “Em” Law is a super-genius living in Trowbridge City, a city heavily populated with superheroes and villains. As the daughter of one of the city’s most infamous supervillains, Em is pretty used to being vilified by everyone around her, She tries to ignore the negative treatment and instead work on her thesis. Unfortunately, the connections she makes during her research mean that her identity puts even more people in danger…

Trowbridge City is really well developed, and the world-building is nicely woven into the plot. I didn’t notice any info-dumps, but little details like a news program specifically designed to follow super news gave us the information we needed when we needed it. The fact that Em is also attending college throughout the book allows for professors to throw in tid-bits of information, and flashbacks from other characters’ POVs filled in the gaps where necessary.

Em is a really well-drawn character; I really felt for her as time after time, people sneered at her or whispered behind her back. Other characters, from the university’s Dean Chambers, to Yellow Fellow himself, and other heroes and villains who made appearances, all felt distinct and unique. The bonus chapter at the end also drew a really good picture of Em’s mother, and how a person could get to the point where they would end up in a relationship with someone like Yellow Fellow.

The book is quite short, and I did feel a bit “What? Is that all?!” when I got to the end, but I am definitely keen to see where the series continues to go, and to spend more time with Em in Trowbridge City.

(Thanks to Gloria Weber for a free copy of this book)

Book Review: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

Title: The Madness Underneath (Shades of London #2)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA/urban fantasy
Date Read:
15/02/2016 – 16/02/2016
Rating: ★★★


After finishing The Name of the Star, the first book in the Shades of London series, I immediately went to the library to pick up the next book. While this one certainly isn’t as strong as the first, I still found it a really enjoyable read.

After dealing with a direct attack on her life, Rory is in therapy and her parents are incredibly protective, but she wants to go back to Wexford. She can’t talk to anyone about her experiences, and would rather just get on with things. Eventually she gets her way, but she’s falling behind at work, not really sure how much she actually likes her boyfriend, and really wishes she could figure out what to do with her new-found ghost-extermination ability.

Maureen Johnson has a really engaging writing style, which is probably lucky, because it meant that it took me 150 pages to realise that nothing really happens in this book, and even then, I still wanted to keep reading it. It was more like a whole book of world-building, I guess, with only some slight character development for the already existing characters and the introduction of some new ones.

Usually when I write reviews I do a paragraph on the world-building and a paragraph on characters, but there’s really not much to say here that I didn’t already say in my review of The Name of the Star on Friday. We really get little else about Rory or the other central characters, and the final chunk really seemed to be just setting up for the third book. Rory makes some really poor choices at times, though I can see why a person in her position may think they seemed like good ideas at the time. I really disagreed with a choice she made right at the end, though that choice in particular leads to events that are going to be important in the third book.

Having said that, these are fun characters to be around, and enough did happen to make a book (though only just). I’m now onto the third one, and I’m hoping it will pick up again.

Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Title: The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA/urban fantasy
Date Read:
10/02/2016 – 12/02/2016
Rating: ★★★★


After following Maureen Johnson on Twitter for something like three years, one of her books seemed the obvious choice for the “a book by an author you feel you should have read by now” item on my 2016 Reading Challenge. While this book wasn’t entirely what I expected, I did end up enjoying it and went straight to the library to pick up the second one afterward.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Rory Deveaux moves to England with her parents, and starts attending boarding school in London while her parents lecture at Bristol University. The same day as she arrives, the population of London is equally horrified and fascinated by a murder that mimics very closely the first murder of Jack the Ripper back in 1888. After several more murders and the city being on lock-down, Rory sees a man at the murder-site that no one else can. And that’s when things begin to get really weird.

I really enjoyed the combination of Rory adjusting to a new school combined with the reaction to the Rippermania. Johnson depicts the public’s macabre fascination with these types of events really well. While Rory is somewhere in the middle, her friends range from those who love the facts about the original case and are using it predict what will happen this time around, to others who find the whole thing sickening.

While it is fairly clear from the blurb that the story would involve ghosts, I was a little bit surprised about where it went with this plot. I don’t want to give away anything, but I will say I was a bit disappointed when the Jack the Ripper murders ended up being more of a means to the killer’s end rather than especially relevant.

Overall, a fun, quick read with some scary moments that made me get up and pull the blinds closed. Recommended for urban fantasy fans.